Directorial elements of Joe Mantello's Broadway staging of Love! Valour! Compassion!, borrowed by director Michael Hall for a 1996 staging by the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, FL, belong to Mantello and deserve compensation.
That's the conclusion of Mantello and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC) after Hall and Caldwell agreed, in a March 22 out of-court settlement, to pay Mantello a full director's fee (including pension and health contributions to the directors' union benefits fund) and part of Mantello's litigation fees. Mantello had initially sued for $250,000; the New York Times reported the settlement amount to be about $7,000. The settlement avoids a protracted trial.
In the settlement, Hall agreed to acknowledge the unauthorized use of stage directions created by Mantello, according to the SSDC.
The property rights litigation initiated by SSDC on Mantello's behalf began in 1996. Hall testified he believed that he had the right to use ground plans, pictures prop lists and other materials which he obtains with scripts of plays without getting permission from the designers or directors, according to the SSDC.
Mantello said proceeds from the settlement will be donated to the SSDC's apprenticeship programs. For a while, it looked as though the case might be headed for court and a precedent-setting decision. Unlike dramatists and choreographers, directors can not claim copyrights on the work they contribute to a production, and no court has ever ruled on whether such work constitutes "intellectual property." For now, it looks as though that question remains undecided.
Hall and the legal counsel for the Caldwell, William McCarthy, were out of their offices March 26 and could not be reached by Playbill On-Line.
"I hope that this case will dispel the idea that original, artistic contributions by directors and designers to the play, which are not part of the text of the play, can be used or appropriated without permission," said SSDC president Ted Pappas, in a statement.
Mantello's contention was that Hall's 1996 staging of McNally's Tony Award-winning L!V!C! copied such elements of his stage direction as tableaux, pantomime, choreographic movement and prop placement.
In 1997, McCarthy told Playbill On-Line, "The suit is restricted to a plain, statutory copyright action. We're pleased with that because it limits the suit as far as damages, plus it gives Mantello and the SSDC a more difficult burden of proof, one that hinges on what's filed with the copyright office."
Continued McCarthy, "Our position has been that there's no such thing as a copyrightable interest in stage directions. They become part of the production script which belongs to the author, which is then turned over to a licensing company. All these things Mantello is pointing to come right out of the licensed script. We understand what the other side is trying to do: establish a new legal principal. But the place to do that is the beginning of the process. If they want to carve out a piece of the author's property, do it with him.
"The traditional, accepted view is that everything that happens to a play during the first production, all belong to the author. So when you obtain the rights from a licensing agents, you've got the whole ball of wax. That includes the script, prop list, costume list, schematic design -- the publishers want to make it as easy as possible for you to get the show up. Especially in a regional theatre, where you have 2-3 weeks to mount a production. Of course, you're paying good money for it; it's not out of the goodness of their hearts."
Asked if that means such publishers as Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service might be brought into the trial, McCarthy replied, "Maybe, but not at this point. It might be necessary, since the SSDC is claiming the publishers don't have the right to put certain lists and charts in the licensed script. That's news to the industry, since it's been done like that for over a hundred years. But I know the SSDC has written a letter to these publishers demanding that they no longer do this.
"Who knows?" continued McCarthy. "That may be the ultimate question of where the licensing goes. But we're kind of caught in the middle."
Asked in 1997 whether the suit(s) might be settled out of court, McCarthy told Playbill On-Line, "We've been willing to talk from the start. We don't bear any grudges and acknowledge his fine work putting together the first production of the play. But he's asking for $250,000, and we will not pay extortion money. We made several offers that were turned down, and that went back and forth, but those discussions broke down."
McCarthy would not specify amounts offered.